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If players have say, Vogel would stay with Pacers

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Here’s some potentially sobering news for the ­refreshingly revived Bulls.

If the Indiana Pacers players have their way, we’ve seen the last of “interim” head coach Frank Vogel.

“We want that ‘interim’ taken off his title,” said forward Danny Granger, the team’s leading scorer.

“Management usually asks for the players’ input on important decisions like this,” Granger said. “I expect [team president Larry Bird] to do so again. If he gives us who we want, he’ll make Vogel the full-time head coach — not interim. Vogel really improved our play overall. Of course, that’s a decision that management makes. And they don’t always make it the way the players want.”

The bad news for the Bulls is that Vogel very well could be around to make the Pacers an even more formidable foe in the Eastern Conference in general and the Central Division in particular.

Vogel, 37, an assistant for eight years, replaced fired predecessor Jim O’Brien when the Pacers were 17-27 and guided them to a 20-18 finish that resulted in the team’s first playoff appearance in five years.

Two wins against Bulls

Under Vogel, the Pacers proved especially menacing to the Bulls. If not for losing to the Pacers, the Bulls would have swept the Central Division 16-0 for the first time in team history and would have enjoyed a 4-0 sweep in the first round of the playoffs and gotten three extra days of rest.

Because the Central Division was the weakest in the league, the Bulls ran away with it and finished with a 25-game lead over the Pacers, the second-place team in the division. Fattening up on Central opponents greatly helped the Bulls finish with a 62-20 record, the best in the league and the franchise’s best since the 1998 NBA-championship team.

The Bulls still had a 47-19 record against the rest of the league. The Pacers were 0-3 against the Bulls before winning the last game of the teams’ regular-season series 115-108 in overtime and then played the Bulls tough in five playoff games, beating them once in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

Hansbrough, Hibbert agree

“I want to see him back as head coach,” said starting forward ­Tyler Hansbrough, who wasn’t ­being given the playing time Bird believed O’Brien should have given him.

“I definitely like playing for him. He gave me a shot. He let me play basketball, and we became a team under him. We gained an identity of being tough and physical —
a scrappy team. That’s something we really haven’t developed in the past.”

Center Roy Hibbert, whose confidence was believed to have been bruised by O’Brien’s public berating, also wants Vogel back full-time.

“He gave us a lot more confidence as a team,” Hibbert said. “We felt we could compete with anyone — and we did.”

Of course, I wouldn’t have expected Vogel to answer any differently when I asked him if Bird had given him any hope that he would be retained full-time.

“Larry Bird’s doing the right thing,” Vogel said. “[He] told me when I took over that we would talk when the season ended after we have had time to evaluate everything, and that’s the plan.”

Bird didn’t say anything about Vogel’s future in Thursday’s end-of-the-season news conference. But when he talks to his players, he’ll find them heavily supportive of Vogel.

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